Amazon’s HQ2: Good News for Workforce Professionals?

Greetings from Washington, D.C., or more precisely, Northern Virginia — the site of half of Amazon’s second headquarters that it calls HQ2.

As revealed, the company will hire about 25,000 high tech-skilled professionals to work out of its new Crystal City, Virginia location in full-time assignments that will pay salaries north of $150,000 annually. Another 25,000 new Amazon hires will operate from the other HQ2 to be built in Long Island City, New York — a stone’s throw across the East River from Manhattan.

Much has been written here about Amazon’s Crystal City reveal. And the sentiments expressed have run the gamut from giddy enthusiasm to profound bitterness. On CNBC, Virginia’s senior U.S. Senator Mark Warner said “the fact that we’re adding 25,000 jobs will have a ripple effect,” meaning that Amazon’s presence in Crystal City will spawn new local businesses offering thousands of new jobs.

We hope that Senator Warner is right.

Our frequent guest on The Tightrope with Dan Smolen podcast, Crystal City-based workforce expert Edythe Richards, is pleased about the 25,000 high salary-paying jobs, but she also offers some skeptical perspective: “The increase in six-figure jobs, real estate development, hip meeting spots, and infrastructure improvements will come at a cost: displacement, over-burdened schools, homelessness, congestion, and increase prices.” Richards adds that Amazon upended the food scene in Seattle where “apparently $18 salads are a thing.” She says that “if you live or work in Crystal City, then it’s time to start packing lunches.”

So why did Amazon pick your Nation’s Capital for half of its HQ2? In a word: TALENT. The counties and cities of Northern Virginia are home to one of the-densest concentrations of high-tech talent in the United States. What it means is that Amazon saves millions in relocation and related expenses, because the talent pool that they need to work in Crystal City is already here. As a former executive recruiter, I am painfully aware of the exorbitant cost of hiring someone that requires relocation hundreds or thousands of miles to their new job site.

In addition, I suspect that Amazon picked Crystal City, because it has a lot of vacant commercial properties that can be easily redesigned and repurposed to the company’s express needs. To Northern Virginians, Crystal City is like the land that time forgot; it experienced the best of times during the early to mid-1980s, but fell out of favor when the more stylish Pentagon City destination — with its Nordstrom and other high-end shopping destinations — opened for business.

Perhaps most important to Amazon is the transportation infrastructure that is already in place: Crystal City has Blue-Line and Yellow-Line METRO rail stops and it is strategically close to Reagan National Airport which has surpassed Washington Dulles as D.C.’s most-frequently-used airport. Amazon plans to construct an elevated walkway to allow pedestrians direct access from HQ2 to the airport.

So, on the upside: an aging business destination called Crystal City gets a major reboot; 25,000 more well-paid professionals will work and live in the same community, and; established local businesses will reap higher revenues.

That ripple described by Senator Warner could happen, and happen soon.

But as my headline asks: Is Amazon’s HQ2 announcement good news for workforce professionals?

That question may not have an acceptable answer — at least not immediately.

As Edythe Richards points out, the rapid arrival of a small city-sized talent pool will have a jarring effect on this community. Historically bad road congestion will get worse. Long lines of coffee shop and restaurant patrons will queue farther along sidewalks and thoroughfares. And the laws of supply and demand will yield an increase in residential housing costs that render the otherwise affordable neighborhoods of Arlington County and the City of Alexandria too-expensive-to-live. What is more, commercial property owners may be emboldened to jack up the cost of adjoining Crystal City leaseholds, so that some long-established locally owned businesses can no longer afford to operate. Out go quaint stores and restaurants long associated with their localities; in come their high-ticket (often nationally recognized brand) replacements.

Workers who live in HQ2’s vicinity love the lives they live in a place where work is a part of an enjoyable life experience. While it’s hard to say if HQ2 will be good for the local workforce in the long run, we hope that Amazon’s decision-makers will strive to maintain Arlington’s sense-of-place and localism-based values, so that it becomes the model for future corporate and community partnerships.

Do enjoy your Thanksgiving Break, but before you descend into a food-coma, please subscribe to The Tightrope with Dan Smolen podcast on Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcasts. Our recent episodes will introduce you to some amazing people who changed their professions to do the work of their dreams — meaningful work. We’re taking a break from streaming this week to be with family and friends, but will return with a fresh new episode next week on Friday, November 30.

FROM our fair city and its communities, I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

FOR our fair city and its communities, I hope that our new neighbor, Amazon, will make us all thankful. I believe that our best days lie ahead.

DAN SMOLEN is executive producer and host of the podcast, The Tightrope with Dan Smolen. Listen and subscribe to us by keywording “The Tightrope with Dan Smolen” on Apple Podcasts. Also, please rate us and offer suggestions for future guests and topics.

Photo credit: Crystal City, Virginia; DCCubed.com.